The annual list below contains selections from the New York Times annual list of 100 Notable Books of the Year, Publishers Weekly's annual Best Books of the Year lists, and starred reviews from Library Journal and Booklist. For more reading suggestions check out Madison Public Library Insider newsletter-- Thanks For the Memories: Biographies and Memoirs.
Writer and professor Nefertiti Austin chose to start her family by adopting. She knew she wanted to adopt a Black boy out of the Los Angeles foster care system. She also chose to do it as a single mother. All those factors would make it tough enough, but Nefertiti hadn't bargained with the lack of resources available to her, or the pushback she would get from her own family. You see, Nefertiti is Black and the path she chose to follow was nearly unheard of in her community. In this unflinching account of her parenting journey, Nefertiti examines the history of adoption in the African American community, faces off against stereotypes of single Black moms, and confronts the reality of what it looks like to raise children of color in racially charged, modern-day America.
A week after her forty-first birthday, the acclaimed poet Anne Boyer was diagnosed with highly aggressive triple-negative breast cancer. For a single mother living paycheck to paycheck who had always been the caregiver rather than the one needing care, the catastrophic illness was both a crisis and an initiation into new ideas about mortality and the gendered politics of illness. Her story is a fresh, fierce, and timely meditation on data, pain, time, and the limited capacity of literature to comprehend life and death in a sensate and vulnerable body.
A celebrated journalist, bestselling author, and recovering addict, David Carr was in the prime of his career when he suffered a fatal collapse in 2015. Shattered by his death, his daughter Erin Lee Carr, an up-and-coming documentary filmmaker, began combing through the entirety of their shared correspondence-1,936 items in total-in search of comfort and support. Through this lens, Erin comes to understand her own workplace missteps, existential crises, and relationship fails. This unique combination of Erin's earnest prose and her father's meaningful words offers a compelling read that shows us what it means to be vulnerable and lost, supported and found. Available to download: Audio
With his now-legendary store on 125th Street in Harlem, Dapper Dan pioneered high-end streetwear in the 1980s, remixing classic luxury-brand logos into his own innovative, glamorous designs. But before he reinvented haute couture, he was a hungry boy with holes in his shoes, a teen who daringly gambled drug dealers out of their money, and a young man in a prison cell who found nourishment in books. In this remarkable memoir, he tells his full story for the first time.
Jaquira Díaz writes an unflinching account of growing up as a queer biracial girl searching for home as her family splits apart and her mother struggles with mental illness and addiction. From her own struggles with depression and drug abuse to her experiences of violence to Puerto Rico's history of colonialism, every page vibrates with music and lyricism.
Amaryllis Fox's riveting memoir tells the story of her ten years in the most elite clandestine ops unit of the CIA, hunting the world's most dangerous terrorists in sixteen countries while marrying and giving birth to a daughter. Available to download: eBook
Donna Freitas has lived two lives. In one life, she is a well-published author and respected scholar who has traveled around the country speaking about Title IX, consent, religion, and sex on college campuses. In the other, she is a victim, a woman who suffered and suffers still because she was stalked by her graduate professor for more than two years. In this memoir, Freitas delivers a forensic examination of the years she spent stalked by her professor, and uses her nightmarish experience to examine the ways in which we stigmatize, debate, and attempt to understand consent today.
In 1921, Françoise Frenkel, a Jewish woman from Poland, fulfills a lifelong dream. She opens Berlin's first French-language bookshop. But Frenkel's bookshop is destroyed on Kristallnacht, and she flees to Paris. With invading German Nazis forcing her to run from one safe house to the next, Frenkel survives at the heroic hands of strangers risking their lives to protect her. Published quietly in 1945, then rediscovered nearly sixty years later in an attic, A Bookshop in Berlin is a remarkable story of survival and resilience, of human cruelty and human spirit. Available to download: Audio
After her father's sudden death, Alexandra Fuller realizes that if she is going to weather his loss, she will need to become the parts of him she misses most. So begins Travel Light, Move Fast, the unforgettable story of Tim Fuller, a self-exiled black sheep who moved to Africa to fight in the Rhodesian Bush War before settling as a banana farmer in Zambia. A man who preferred chaos to predictability, to revel in promise rather than wallow in regret, and who was more afraid of becoming bored than of getting lost, he taught his daughters to live as if everything needed to happen all together, all at once--or not at all. Now, in the wake of his death, Fuller internalizes his lessons with clear eyes and celebrates a man who swallowed life whole. Available to download: eBook
After a diagnosis of dementia, Nicci Gerrard's father, John, continued to live life on his own terms, alongside the disease. But when an isolating hospital stay precipitated a dramatic turn for the worse, Gerrard, an award-winning journalist and author, recognized that it was not just the disease, but misguided protocol and harmful practices that cause such pain at the end of life. The Last Ocean is Gerrard's investigation into what dementia does to both the person who lives with the condition and to their caregivers. Gerrard gives raw but literary shape both to the unimaginable loss of one's own faculties, as well as to the pain of their loved ones. Her lens is unflinching, but Gerrard honors her subjects and finds the beauty and the humanity in their seemingly diminished states.
As the book opens: two-year-old Greta Greene is sitting with her grandmother on a park bench on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. A brick crumbles from a windowsill overhead, striking her unconscious, and she is immediately rushed to the hospital. But although it begins with this event and with the anguish Jayson and his wife, Stacy, confront in the wake of their daughter's trauma and the hours leading up to her death, Once More We Saw Stars quickly becomes a narrative that is as much about hope and healing as it is about grief and loss. With raw honesty, deep emotion, and exquisite tenderness, Greene captures both the fragility of life and absoluteness of death, and most important of all, the unconquerable power of love. Available to download: eBook Audio
In this viscerally raw and honest work, Bassey Ikpi explores her life--as a Nigerian-American immigrant, a black woman, a slam poet, a mother, a daughter, an artist--through the lens of her mental health and diagnosis of bipolar II and anxiety. Her remarkable memoir in essays implodes our preconceptions of the mind and normalcy as Bassey bares her own truths and lies for us all to behold with radical honesty and brutal intimacy.
With a poet's gifted ear, a novelist's sense of narrative, and a journalist's unsentimental eye, Mitchell S. Jackson candidly explores his tumultuous youth in the other America. The book takes its name from the calculations Mitchell and his family made to stay alive and to keep safe in their community, a small black neighborhood in Portland, Oregon blighted by drugs, violence, poverty, and governmental neglect.
Haunted and haunting, How We Fight for Our Lives is a stunning coming-of-age memoir, the story of a young, black, gay man from the South as he fights to carve out a place for himself. Through a series of vignettes that chart a course across the American landscape, Jones draws readers into his boyhood and adolescence--into tumultuous relationships with his family, into passing flings with lovers, friends, and strangers. Each piece builds into a larger examination of race and queerness, power and vulnerability, love and grief: a portrait of what we all do for one another--and to one another--as we fight to become ourselves. Available to download: eBook Audio
In the Dream House is Carmen Maria Machado's engrossing and wildly innovative account of a relationship gone bad, and a bold dissection of the mechanisms and cultural representations of psychological abuse. Machado's dire narrative is leavened with her characteristic wit, playfulness, and openness to inquiry. She casts a critical eye over legal proceedings, fairy tales, Star Trek, and Disney villains, as well as iconic works of film and fiction. The result is a wrenching, riveting book that explodes our ideas about what a memoir can do and be. Available to download: Audio
Moorer turns her lyrical storytelling powers to recount the events leading up to the moment that forever altered her own life and that of her older sister, Shelby, with whom she shares an unbreakable bond. Gorgeously written, this work delves into the meaning of inheritance and destiny, shame, and trauma--and how it is possible to carve out a safe place in the world despite it all. Available to download: eBook
In Broken Places & Outer Spaces, acclaimed author Nnedi Okorafor takes the reader on a journey from her hospital bed following a surgery that left her temporarily paralyzed deep into her memories, from her painful first experiences with racism as a child in Chicago to her powerful visits to her parents' hometown in Nigeria. Through her own story, as well as explorations of the compelling stories of other great artists and writers who have pushed through their limitations, using hardship to fuel their work, Nnedi reveals a universal truth: What we perceive as limitations have the potential to become our greatest strengths--far greater than when we were unbroken.
The activist and TED speaker Megan Phelps-Roper reveals her life growing up in the most hated family in America. Rich with suspense and thoughtful reflection, her life story exposes the dangers of black-and-white thinking and the need for true humility in a time of angry polarization. Available to download: eBook
An intimate, powerful, and galvanizing memoir by Pulitzer Prize winner, human rights advocate, and former UN Ambassador Samantha Power, in which Power offers an urgent response to the question "What can one person do?" and a call for a clearer eye, a kinder heart, and a more open and civil hand in our politics and daily lives. Available to download: eBook Audio
The author of Dead Man Walking, the nation's foremost leader in efforts to abolish the death penalty, shares the story of her growth as a spiritual leader, speaks out about the challenges of the Catholic Church, and shows that joy and religion are not mutually exclusive. Available to download: eBook
When Condé Nast offered Ruth Reichl the top position at America's oldest epicurean magazine, she declined. She was a writer, not a manager, and had no inclination to be anyone's boss. Yet Reichl had been reading Gourmet since she was eight; it had inspired her career. How could she say no? Complete with recipes, Save Me the Plums is the story of how Reichl, along with legendary chefs, idiosyncratic writers, and a colorful group of editors and art directors, transformed stately Gourmet into a cutting-edge publication, as well as a personal journey of a woman coming to terms with being in charge and making a mark, following a passion and holding on to her dreams--even when she ends up in a place she never expected to be. Available to download: eBook Audio
Recalling pivotal moments from her dynamic career on the front lines of American diplomacy and foreign policy, Susan E. Rice -- National Security Advisor to President Barack Obama and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations -- delivers an inspiring account of a life in service to family and country. Available to download: eBook Audio
In Mighty Justice, trailblazing African American civil rights attorney Dovey Johnson Roundtree recounts her inspiring life story that speaks movingly and urgently to our racially troubled times. At a time when African American attorneys had to leave the courthouses to use the bathroom, Roundtree took on Washington's white legal establishment and prevailed, winning a 1955 landmark bus desegregation case that would help to dismantle the practice of "separate but equal" and shatter Jim Crow laws. Later, she led the vanguard of women ordained to the ministry in the AME Church in 1961, merging her law practice with her ministry to fight for families and children being destroyed by urban violence. Dovey Roundtree passed away in 2018 at the age of 104. Though her achievements were significant and influential, she remains largely unknown to the American public. Mighty Justice corrects the historical record.
Spring, 2016. Through a genealogy website to which she had submitted her DNA for analysis, Shapiro received the stunning news that her father was not her biological father. Her entire history crumbled beneath her. This is the story of her quest to unlock the story of her own identity, a story that has been scrupulously hidden from her for more than fifty years, years she had spent writing on themes of identity and family history. She shows that science and technology may have outpaced not only medical ethics but also the capacities of the human heart to contend with the consequences of what we discover. Available to download: eBook Audio
Solitary is the unforgettable life story of a man who served more than four decades in solitary confinement--in a 6-foot by 9-foot cell, 23 hours a day, in notorious Angola prison in Louisiana--all for a crime he did not commit. That Albert Woodfox survived was, in itself, a feat of extraordinary endurance against the violence and deprivation he faced daily. That he was able to emerge whole from his odyssey within America's prison and judicial systems is a triumph of the human spirit, and makes his book a clarion call to reform the inhumanity of solitary confinement in the U.S. and around the world.
That Julie Yip-Williams survived infancy was a miracle. Born blind in Vietnam, she narrowly escaped euthanasia. Her family fled their country's political upheaval in the late 1970s, and in America a surgeon at UCLA gave Julie partial sight. She became a Harvard-educated lawyer with a husband, two little girls, and a life that once seemed impossible. Then, at thirty-seven, she was diagnosed with terminal metastatic colon cancer, and a different journey began. With humor, bracing honesty, and the cleansing power of well-deployed anger, Julie set the stage for her lasting legacy and one final miracle: the story of her life. Available to download: eBook Audio
Chef José Andrés arrived in Puerto Rico four days after Hurricane Maria ripped through the island and addressed the humanitarian crisis the only way he knew how: by feeding people, one hot meal at a time. Based on Andrés's insider's take as well as on meetings, messages, and conversations he had while in Puerto Rico, We Fed an Island movingly describes how a network of community kitchens activated real change and tells an extraordinary story of hope in the face of disasters both natural and man-made, offering suggestions for how to address a crisis like this in the future.
Born on a farm and named in a field by her parents―artist Chrisann Brennan and Steve Jobs―Lisa Brennan-Jobs's childhood unfolded in a rapidly changing Silicon Valley. When she was young, Lisa's father was a mythical figure who was rarely present in her life. As she grew older, her father took an interest in her, ushering her into a new world of mansions, vacations, and private schools. His attention was thrilling, but he could also be cold, critical and unpredictable. When her relationship with her mother grew strained in high school, Lisa decided to move in with her father, hoping he'd become the parent she'd always wanted him to be. Part portrait of a complex family, part love letter to California in the seventies and eighties, Small Fry is a poignant coming-of-age story from one of our most exciting new literary voices. Available to download: Audio
For Francisco Cantú, the border is in the blood: his mother, a park ranger and daughter of a Mexican immigrant, raised him in the scrublands of the Southwest. Driven to understand the hard realities of the landscape he loves, Cantú joins the Border Patrol. He and his partners learn to track other humans under blistering sun and through frigid nights. They haul in the dead and deliver to detention those they find alive. Plagued by a growing awareness of his complicity in a dehumanizing enterprise, he abandons the Patrol for civilian life. But when an immigrant friend travels to Mexico to visit his dying mother and does not return, Cantú discovers that the border has migrated with him, and now he must know the full extent of the violence it wreaks, on both sides of the line. Available to download: eBook Audio
Nicole Chung was born severely premature, placed for adoption by her Korean parents, and raised by a white family in a sheltered Oregon town. She was told her biological parents had made the ultimate sacrifice in the hope of giving her a better life, that forever feeling slightly out of place was her fate as a transracial adoptee. But Nicole grew up facing prejudice her adoptive family couldn't see, and wondered if the story she'd been told was the whole truth. Here Chung tells of her search for the people who gave her up, and chronicles the repercussions of unearthing painful family secrets. Available to download: eBook
Fashion Climbing is the story of a young man striving to be the person he was born to be: a true original. But although he was one of New York City’s most recognized and treasured figures, Bill Cunningham was also one of its most guarded. Written with his infectious joy and one-of-a-kind voice, this memoir was polished, neatly typewritten, and safely stored away in his lifetime. He held off on sharing it--and himself--until his passing. Between these covers, is an education in style, an effervescent tale of a bohemian world as it once was, and a final gift to the readers of one of New York's great characters. Available to download: eBook
In this intimate, haunting literary memoir, an American icon tells her own story for the first time -- about a challenging and lonely childhood, the craft that helped her find her voice, and a powerful emotional legacy that shaped her journey as a daughter and a mother. Available to download: eBook Audio
Casey Gerald comes to our fractured times as a uniquely visionary witness whose life has spanned seemingly unbridgeable divides. His story begins at the end of the world: Dallas, New Year's Eve 1999, when he gathers with the congregation of his grandfather's black evangelical church to see which of them will be carried off. His beautiful, fragile mother disappears frequently and mysteriously; for a brief idyll, he and his sister live like Boxcar Children on her disability checks. When Casey--following in the footsteps of his father, a gridiron legend who literally broke his back for the team--is recruited to play football at Yale, he enters a world he's never dreamed of, the anteroom to secret societies and success on Wall Street, in Washington, and beyond. But even as he attains the inner sanctums of power, Casey sees how the world crushes those who live at its margins. He sees how the elite perpetuate the salvation stories that keep others from rising. And he sees, most painfully, how his own ascension is part of the scheme. Intense, incantatory, shot through with sly humor and quiet fury, There Will Be No Miracles Here inspires us to question--even shatter--and reimagine our most cherished myths. Available to download: eBook Audio
Through an examination of her own marriage and literature on the longevity of desire by authors from Ovid and Shakespeare to Toni Morrison and Marilynne Robinson, Susan Goldblatt studies the obstacles many older couples overcome and marvels at the passion that buoys her own relationship. A memoir proving that love and desire have no expiration date, Late-Life Love is a resounding retort to negative valuations of old age and a celebration of second chances.
From one of the co-founders of the Black Lives Matter movement comes a poetic memoir and reflection on humanity. Necessary and timely, Patrisse Cullors' story asks us to remember that protest in the interest of the most vulnerable comes from love. Leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement have been called terrorists, a threat to America. But in truth, they are loving women whose life experiences have led them to seek justice for those victimized by the powerful. In this meaningful, empowering account of survival, strength, and resilience, Patrisse Cullors and asha bandele seek to change the culture that declares innocent black life expendable. Available to download: eBook Audio
Heart Berries is a powerful, poetic memoir of a woman's coming of age on the Seabird Island Band in the Pacific Northwest. Having survived a profoundly dysfunctional upbringing only to find herself hospitalized and facing a dual diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder and bipolar II disorder; Terese Marie Mailhot is given a notebook and begins to write her way out of trauma. The triumphant result is Heart Berries, a memorial for Mailhot's mother, a social worker and activist who had a thing for prisoners; a story of reconciliation with her father--an abusive drunk and a brilliant artist--who was murdered under mysterious circumstances; and an elegy on how difficult it is to love someone while dragging the long shadows of shame. Available to download: eBook Audio
When Darnell Moore was fourteen, three boys from his neighborhood tried to set him on fire. They cornered him while he was walking home from school, harassed him because they thought he was gay, and poured a jug of gasoline on him. He escaped, but just barely. It wasn't the last time he would face death. Three decades later, Moore is an award-winning writer, a leading Black Lives Matter activist, and an advocate for justice and liberation. In No Ashes in the Fire, he shares the journey taken by that scared, bullied teenager who not only survived, but found his calling. Available to download: eBook
I Am, I Am, I Am is Maggie O'Farrell's astonishing memoir of the near-death experiences that have punctuated and defined her life. Seventeen discrete encounters with Maggie at different ages, in different locations, reveal a whole life in a series of tense, visceral snapshots. In taut prose that vibrates with electricity and restrained emotion, O'Farrell captures the perils running just beneath the surface, and illuminates the preciousness, beauty, and mysteries of life itself. Available to download: eBook
During Smarsh's turbulent childhood in Kansas in the '80s and '90s, the forces of cyclical poverty and the country's changing economic policies solidified her family's place among the working poor. Her personal history affirms the corrosive impact intergenerational poverty can have on individuals, families, and communities. Combining memoir with powerful analysis and cultural commentary, this is an uncompromising look at class, identity, and the particular perils of having less in a country known for its excess. Available to download: eBook Audio
The singer, guitarist, and songwriter--best known for his work with Chicago rock band Wilco--opens up about his past, his songs, the music, and the people that have inspired him. Honest, funny, and disarming, Tweedy's memoir will bring readers inside both his life and his musical process, illuminating his singular genius and sharing his story, voice, and perspective for the first time.
Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, Tara Westover was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. Her family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education, and no one to intervene when one of Tara's older brothers became violent. When another brother got himself into college, Tara decided to try a new kind of life. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge University. Only then would she wonder if she'd traveled too far, if there was still a way home. Available to download: eBook Audio
Matt Young joined the Marine Corps at age eighteen. The teenage wasteland he fled followed him to the training bases charged with making him a Marine. Matt survived the training and then not one, not two, but three deployments to Iraq. Visceral, ironic, self-lacerating, and ultimately redemptive, Young's story drops us unarmed into Marine Corps culture and lays bare the absurdism of 21st-century war, the manned-up vulnerability of those on the front lines, and the true, if often misguided, motivations that drove a young man to a life at war.
Through the unpredictability of war and its aftermath, a decorated Marine sergeant and a world-trotting war photographer became friends, their bond forged as they patrolled together through the dusty alleyways of Helmand province and camped side by side in the desert. Their story, told in alternating first-person narratives, is about the things they saw and did, the ways they have been affected, and how they have navigated the psychological aftershocks of war and wrestled with reforming their own identities and moral centres.
As a woman who describes her own body as "wildly undisciplined," New York Times bestselling author Roxane Gay understands the tension between desire and denial, between self-comfort and self-care. In this deeply personal memoir, she explores what it means to be overweight in a time when the bigger you are, the less you are seen. Available to download: eBook Audio
The life story of Coretta Scott King--wife of Martin Luther King Jr., founder of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change (The King Center), and singular twentieth-century American civil and human rights activist--as told fully for the first time, toward the end of her life, to Rev. Dr. Barbara Reynolds. Available to download: Audio
All her life, Ariel Levy was told that she was too fervent, too forceful, too much. As a young woman, she decided that becoming a writer would perfectly channel her strength and desire. Levy moved to Manhattan to pursue her dream, and spent years of adventure, traveling all over the world writing stories about unconventional heroines, following their fearless examples in her own life. But when she experiences unthinkable heartbreak, Levy is forced to surrender her illusion of control. In telling her story, Levy has captured a portrait of our time, of the shifting forces in American culture, of what has changed and what has remained. And of how to begin again.
Father Greg Lockwood is unlike any Catholic priest you have ever met--a man who lounges in boxer shorts, loves action movies, and whose constant jamming on the guitar reverberates "like a whole band dying in a plane crash in 1972." His daughter is an irreverent poet who long ago left the Church's country. When an unexpected crisis leads her and her husband to move back into her parents' rectory, their two worlds collide. In Priestdaddy, Lockwood interweaves emblematic moments from her childhood and adolescence with scenes that chronicle the eight-month adventure she and her husband had in her parents' household after a decade of living on their own. Available to download: eBook
A fearless memoir in which beloved and bestselling author Julie Lythcott-Haims pulls no punches in her recollections of growing up a black woman in America. Bringing a poetic sensibility to her prose to stunning effect, Lythcott-Haims briskly and stirringly evokes her personal battle with the low self-esteem that American racism routinely inflicts on people of color. The only child of a marriage between an African-American father and a white British mother, she shows indelibly how so-called "micro" aggressions in addition to blunt force insults can puncture a person's inner life with a thousand sharp cuts. Real American expresses also, through Lythcott-Haims's path to self-acceptance, the healing power of community in overcoming the hurtful isolation of being incessantly considered "the other."
Charting the course through the whirlwind romance between New York Times bestselling author Joyce Maynard and Jim, first true partner she had ever known, a marriage cut short by tragedy, and Joyce's return to singleness on new terms, The Best of Us is a heart-wrenching, ultimately life-affirming reflection on coming to understand true love through the experience of great loss.
Prolific and widely renowned, Eileen Myles is a trailblazer whose decades of literary and artistic work "set a bar for openness, frankness, and variability few lives could ever match" (New York Review of Books). This newest book paints a kaleidoscopic portrait of a beloved confidant: the pit bull called Rosie.
The beloved memoirist and bestselling author of Population: 485 reflects on the lessons he's learned from his unlikely alter ego, French Renaissance philosopher Michel de Montaigne. Written in a spirit of exploration rather than declaration, Montaigne in Barn Boots is a down-to-earth (how do you pronounce that last name?) look into the ideas of a philosopher "ensconced in a castle tower overlooking his vineyard," channeled by a midwestern American writing "in a room above the garage overlooking a disused pig pen." Available to download: eBook Audio
Built on her wildly popular Modern Love column, 'When a Couch is More Than a Couch' (9/23/2016), a breathtaking memoir of living meaningfully with 'death in the room' by the 38 year old great-great-great granddaughter of Ralph Waldo Emerson, mother to two young boys, wife of 16 years, after her terminal cancer diagnosis.” Available to download: eBook Audio
In Where the Past Begins, bestselling author of The Joy Luck Club and The Valley of Amazement Amy Tan is at her most intimate in revealing the truths and inspirations that underlie her extraordinary fiction. Supplied with candor and characteristic humor, Tan takes readers into her past and the idiosyncratic workings of her writer's mind, a journey that explores memory, imagination, and truth, with fiction serving as both her divining rod and link to meaning. Available to download: eBook
The night before her father dies, eighteen-year-old Jeannie Vanasco promises she will write a book for him. But this isn't the book she imagined. The Glass Eye is Jeannie's struggle to honor her father, her larger-than-life hero but also the man who named her after his daughter from a previous marriage, a daughter who died. After his funeral, Jeannie spends the next decade in escalating mania, in and out of hospitals--increasingly obsessed with the other Jeanne. A brilliant exploration of the human psyche, The Glass Eye deepens our definitions of love, sanity, grief, and recovery.